Becoming a Foreign Service Officer: A Quick Guide


Foreign Service Officers are hired to protect Americans around the globe. Find out here exactly what is a Foreign Service Officer and how to become one.

Have you ever wanted to live abroad, but you don’t have the material wealth needed for a visa or a relevant degree? As an American citizen, you have another track: you can become a Foreign Service Officer, serve your country, and see the world.

What is a Foreign Service Officer, and how you become one? Keep reading for everything you need to know about this exciting international career.

What Is a Foreign Service Officer?

Foreign Service Officers are diplomats and civil servants who represent the American government and people in stations around the world. Within the Foreign Service Officer career, there are five tracks:

  1. Consular Officers
  2. Economic Officers
  3. Management Officers
  4. Political Officers
  5. Public Diplomacy Officers

You could do anything from process U.S. passports and visas at a foreign embassy to work in diplomacy with foreign governments. The vast majority of your time is spent doing paperwork and completing reports.

It’s not all as it seems though.

While you do get to travel, live in government housing, and enjoy government benefits, career Foreign Service Officers are also sent to hardship posts. These posts can be challenging and even dangerous. In some cases, you may be assigned to a position where your family can’t join you.

How to Become a Foreign Service Officer

Foreign Service Officer positions are open to American citizens between ages 20 and 59.

The great news is that you don’t need connections or a fancy degree to become a Foreign Service Officer. Instead, you go through the Foreign Service Officer Selection process, which includes eight steps:

  1. Choosing one of five tracks
  2. Registering for the Foreign Service Officer Test
  3. Taking the Foreign Service Officer Test
  4. Submitting narratives for the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP) review
  5. Passing the Foreign Service Oral Assessment
  6. Receiving medical and security clearances
  7. Appearing for the Suitability Review Panel
  8. Appearing on The Register

If you have a clean background and a commitment to service, then the hardest part of the process is passing the test.

The written FSOT is challenging. It lasts for three hours, and it only happens three times a year.

Thankfully, the State Department offers a suggested course and reading list. But you also need to know about current events, history, geography, science, and even literature.

Passing the Foreign Service Officer Test requires commitment, but there are plenty of FSOT prep opportunities available to you.

You are also at an advantage if you are a veteran or have foreign language experience.

Are You Ready to Start Your Career?

What is a Foreign Service Officer? They’re professionals who represent the United States at stations around the world — from London to Beijing to Kabul — and provide a wide range of essential services.

If you’re a young person interested in the world around you and ready to get out in it, then a career as a Foreign Service Officer may be right for you.

Did we answer your question? Learn more about working and living abroad in our Travel archive.

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